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Greene County advances to Babe Ruth title game

In a game that in many ways was an exact replica of Community Bank’s win over Parr’s Chevron the night before, Greene County Steam Plant rallied in the bottom of the seventh for a 3-2 win over New Era Cap Co. The victory moves Greene County into the title game of the West Alabama Babe Ruth League championship tournament, to be played Friday night at the SportPlex.

Like Community Bank, Greene County trailed for much of the game before their last-gasp rally. New Era took a 1-0 lead in the third inning. New Era leadoff hitter Shelby Speegle reached base before Jason Fondren tripled, scoring Speegle easily.

Speegle and Fondren collaborated on the defensive side of the ball as well, as each took the mound and worked to keep Greene County off the board for the first six innings. Speegle piched four scoreless innings before Fondren came on in relief and blanked the tournament’s top seed for two more.

But Greene County was kept in the game by a sterling pitching performance of their own from Justin Guy, who allowed only the third inning run in his five innings of work. Lane Phillips came on in relief and pitched a scoreless sixth.

The Greene County defense also got a boost from a successful trick defensive play earlier in the game. With a New Era runner on second, Guy pantomimed making a pick-off move while keeping the ball in his glove. The Greene County defense responded as if the ball had been thrown into centerfield, and in the apparent confusion Guy sprinted over to tag the advancing runner out.

But a New Era win still looked likely after they pushed across an insurance run in the top of the seventh–just as Parr’s had the evening before. Scott Cannon doubled and stole third, setting the table for Johnny Gardner to pick up an RBI with a ground ball the right side of the infield.

But also like Parr’s, New Era’s lead didn’t hold. Walter Hudgens kicked off the bottom-f-the-seventh rally with a double before Larry Skyler Dunn surprised the New Era defense with a two-strike bunt. A throwing error allowed Hudgens to score and put Dunn on first. Fondren got his second out when Ryan Guin’s two-strike bunt attempt went foul, but Jacob Taylor drew a walk and both Dunn and Taylor advanced into scoring position on a double steal.

That set the stage for Drew Tucker’s at-bat and the game’s deciding play. Tucker laid down yet another bunt on a called squeeze play, and when the throw to first got away for the second time in the inning, Taylor scored from second to give Greene County the win. The rally marked the second time in two nights a team had rallied from a two-run deficit with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to win.

“It’s uncanny how similar the last two games have been,” said Babe Ruth commissioner Rob Pearson, who has been pleased with the competitive nature of the tournament. “All four of our tournament games have gone down to the wire,” he said.

Thursday night’s game looks to be more of the same as New Era will have an elimination game against closely-matched rivals Community Bank. None of the six games between the two teams have been decided by more than two runs. Whichever team survives will face the daunting task of defeating Green County twice to claim the league title.

“Hopefully we’ll play the same kind of defense we played last night,” Greene County coach Bud Phillips said of the Friday night title tilt. “We didn’t bat worth a flip. But our defense was real, real good.”